Who's Douchier? The Douchebag, or the Douchebags Who Gave Him the Award?

You already know Jerry Lewis is a douchebag.

His misogyny and homophobia are well established. There are even uncyclopedic entries on his douchedom.

But in some respects Jerry has not gotten the credit he deserves. He’s also a patronizing ableist who’s successfully promoted out-dated, prejudicial attitudes about disability. In recognition of this noncomplishment, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences decided to give him an Oscar – for being a humanitarian.

As a disability rights activist, I’m sure Jerry considers me one of the “leeches… . Disabled people who are … bitter at the bad hand they’ve been dealt.” Whatever. I’ve still gotta ask:

Who’s worse? The douchebag who spews this stuff, or the Board of Douches that gave him an award for it?

On February 22nd, Jerry was awarded the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award for hosting Muscular Dystrophy Association Telethons for the last 42 years.

In a 1990 Parade article, Jerry got the public ready to give till he hurts us by writing that if he had MD, he’d be a “half-person.” Shouldn’t a humanitarian at least recognize the people he’s supposedly working for are full humans?

The golden statuette was presented to Jerry after a soppy reel of the comic palling around with “his kids.” Too bad that many of them abhor his message of pathos and helplessness – and being called “kids” their whole lives. Writer and activist Laura Hershey, a former Telethon “poster child,” authored a petition demanding the award be revoked.

“Lewis has helped to perpetuate negative, stereotypical attitudes toward people with disabilities,” the petition states. “Lewis and the Telethon actively promote pity. Disabled people want respect and rights.”

Over 2,800 signatories agree. Along with her signature on the petition, Anita Amy Ashdon wrote, “While I was an MDA ‘poster girl’ in 1977, [Lewis] never stopped smoking around his ‘kids’ and refused to talk to us or give an autograph. He treated us like prop objects to make his image look good. It was a crushing moment for a seven year old.”

During the 1992 Telethon – two years after passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act – Lewis said people with MD “cannot go into the workplace. There’s nothing they can do.”

Actually, there’s a lot they can do, like call themselves “Jerry’s Orphans” and protest the telethons every year. Or make a documentary, The Kids Are All Right about the protests.

Hey! Isn’t being a filmmaker considered “work”? Isn’t there even an organization that gives people awards for making films?

Anyway, in the inimitable “say-what-I-really-think-before-my-publicist-checks-it” style that won him the Humanitarian Oscar, Monsieur Douchier told a Vanity Fair reporter, “They want me to stop now? Fuck them. Do it in caps. FUCK THEM.”

(You can actually listen to Jerry himself rant, “You don’t want to be pitied because you’re a cripple in a wheelchair? Stay in your house!” right here!)

But we uppity crips don’t always stay in our houses and pine away that we’re disabled, like we’re supposed to. Hershey and a coalition of disability rights organizers formed The Trouble with Jerry to educate AMPAS about the damage the Telethons cause and ask the award be withheld.

Their letter to the Academy began by urging AMPAS “to reconsider your decision, rescind the Award, and meet with us to discuss its damaging ramifications. While Mr. Lewis raised significant dollars for MDA, the cost is too high to the rights, images and dignity of people with disabilities.”

AMPAS Executive Director, Bruce Davis responded: “Nothing in your letter … come[s] as news… .But in all fairness … he has raised more than $800 million in support of the care of those afflicted with muscular dystrophy, and research toward its cure. Once again: $800,000,000.

“Doesn’t it seem … that this is an extraordinary accomplishment? … Heroes are rarely perfect… . At the same time, . . some scratches in the paint job shouldn’t lead us to dismiss the virtues of a Lamborghini.”

Davis seems to be fond of repeating repeating the dollar amount (maybe so all “those afflicted” can measure Jerry’s humanitarianism in the correct increments), because he did more of that in person, when members of The Trouble with Jerry protested on Oscar weekend in LA.

Protesters took over the AMPAS lobby on February 20, singing a pithy little pity ditty (“He feels pity, so much pity. He feels pity, and to this we object! Because pity, heightens fear and undermines respect”), demanding to speak to Davis, and generally enjoying themselves. When the police couldn’t intimidate the group into leaving, they had their meeting:

“For the next five or ten minutes, we laid out our objections to the idea of giving Jerry Lewis, of all people, a humanitarian award. As he’s done before, Davis made his favorite point about Lewis — that he has raised a huge amount of money for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. ‘Isn’t that worth something?’ he asked.

“… Davis alternately listened attentively, and reacted defensively. One activist told a story about a friend with a neuromuscular condition, who needed a life-saving ventilator, which was denied by MDA. At this point, Davis announced that he was very busy getting ready for the Oscars. He waved goodbye, and left us.”

This really makes it hard to decide: Who earns the douchebag decree?

The guy who, when his career started foundering, used children as props, then demeaned them in public and private for four decades?

Or the self-satisfied head of Hollywood’s arbiters of achievement, who subtly accuses a group of grassroots disability-rights activists of being self-promoting in the same letter as he uses a casual Lamborghini reference to make his point?

The unapologetic bigot scraping for adoration any way he can get it?

Or the Academy that gave him the Oscar and the standing ovation; that already knew how Jerry treats the people they’re honoring him for “helping”; who call him “a hero”; who makes the point over and over that it’s all about the Benjamins, yet when they hear a real account of MDA not using that money to keep someone alive … Woops! Got an urgent meeting/luncheon/massage to get to!

Oh, the humanity.

by Sharon Wachsler
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9 Comments Have Been Posted

Lewis may be the all-time Douchebag.

Prior to the Oscars, <a href="http://www.progressive.org/mag/mplewis021909.html">The Progressive</a> chimed-in on the matter right-on. Lewis has also made disparaging remarks on gay people and women. Remember the firestorm-instigating "women are not funny" remark about eight years' ago?? Never mind that he once performed alongside the ever-awesome Sandra Bernhard in "The King of Comedy." As a relative of a disabled person, I have ZERO respect for this DOUCHEBAG EXTROARDINARE, and anyone else who considers him to be a legendary humanitarian. More like a legendary, exploitative scam artist if you ask me.

I work at a grocery store

I work at a grocery store that asks every customer for all these dollars that "he" raises. I would have to say that it is raised despite him NOT because of him...If customers if it is for Jerrys kids we say NO it os for MDA because no one will give if they think he has anything to do with it!! They get quite vocal about it too....just think of how much more we could raise for a good cause if he was not associated with it at all!!

Mixed Feelings about the Wackadoo

I have very mixed feelings about Jerry Lewis. As a film enthusiast, I can't help but acknowledge his contributions to the art form and marvel at how wonderful his underrated movies are. He's one of my favorites. He should have been given the lifetime achievement award instead of the humanitarian award. On the other hand, he is clearly insane and makes really mean, ignorant comments consistently. I honestly don't know if he realizes what he's saying anymore, but that doesn't excuse his behavior either. He's just a douche bag who makes really good, often belly-achingly hilarious art.

His ambivalent feelings towards society and especially women is often expressed in his own work. If you're interested, I recommend checking out Three on a Couch (which has a surprisingly feminist edge to it), The Ladies' Man, and The Nutty Professor. Though the characters Jerry plays always end up on top, there's also an underlying theme of self-loathing and self-deprecation for each one as well.

I'm really surprised that

I'm really surprised that Bitch allowed this to be published. I love Bitch magazine because it doesn't view the world through a black and white lens. For me, the various essays and editorials Bitch publishes thrives on sifting through the gray matter of pop culture and providing alternate views to commonplace theories and philosophies. This Jerry Lewis post is entirely subjective and doesn't provide readers with any variation on the image of him as a person. I don't agree with a lot of the things he's said and done, but haven't we all done things we're not proud of? Can't we have any complex people anymore? Jerry Lewis is a complex person and despite his shortcomings, he has raised A LOT of money for charity. Doesn't that matter? I think the letter from Davis sounded reasonable and well-argued. Slandering Jerry Lewis in this day and age is like shooting fish in a barrel. It's sad to say, but people only see him for the negative aspects of his persona. They don't see him for any of his good qualities. I wish Ms. Wachsler, in the spirit of Bitch magazine, had offered some alternative views (and more sources) of Mr. Lewis before declaring "douchebag." Citing an inane blog post about Jerry Lewis from someone who wants to play bagpipes doesn't really strike me as good, objective criticism or commentary.

Jerry Lewis

I'm glad Bitch is reporting this issue.

There needs to be more awareness to the realities of Jerry Lewis, the telethon, and what really is going on with the money raised.

As a client who's been behind the scenes at MDA telethons, many games are being played to fool the public.

The volunteers at the phones are told to look busy and call one another while cameras are on them, while in reality donations are either already being collected and submitted on line, by credit card, and hand delivered by families and dedicated volunteers.

The same empty wheelchair filled with orthopedic braces discarded by kids who out grew them in the 1970s gets rolled out every year with hourly pleas to donate money.

Many fine print loopholes currently prevent clients from ever qualifying for any true help. Close to every service {flu shots, braces, wheelchairs, support groups} scripted into MDA appeals for public donations never really happen for the 'kids'.

MDA telethons claims dollar amounts of support groups per client, but all support group locations are donated, no transport is provided and at most one facilitator is paid a small stipend. The few support groups MDA have are in areas with no accessible and affordible public transport, at days and times that very few can attend. They are essentially set up to fail.

Flu shots consists of at best an MDA employee telling you to web search vacine clinics at chain drug stores. Leaving clients with fragile health to go to cattle call flu shot clinics that don't understand neuro muscular conditiions, refuse shots for primary care givers, don't accept medicaid, or might not even be at accessible locations.

I hope the world will begin to demand transparency of funds instead lashing misdirected anger at those who put thier necks out to expose the truth about MDA and Jerry Lewis.

Very little services ever really go to the 'kids' in the heaps of tax free dollars donated to MDA. A lot more flak goes to the families speaking the truth. We're called ingrates while Jerry and MDA get awards and unearned devotion.

It's not about the douches

it's about feeling fresh and clean afterwards, and boy, do I feel squeaky! There's nothing like washing away the foul sticky mess of real life with an artificial chemically-laden "rinse". Thanks Jerry! Thanks Acadamy! People with Disabilities are now fit for public consumption. Mmmmmm....


I think this serves as a very depressing reminder of the way in which disabled people deserving of respect are viewed as "others" in our society. For some reason, we have not moved past our roots of biological determinism, where the physical body is seen as an indicator of one's capacities as a human being.

As far a Jerry Lewis goes, I'm aware that I don't know his whole history, his works, or the inner mechanisms of his mind, but I still find myself unable to reconcile the idea of his duplicity in this matter. Yes, he's raised a significant amount of funds, but that effort is largely poisoned by his simultaneous discrimination of the disabled. Furthermore, I think the fact that his own "kids" have voiced opposition against him says something powerful about the situation. I just don't know if it's possible to be a half-humanitarian...it seems as absurd to me as being half-human.

Rock'n'roll star

There is that this guy still the debauchee. I know precisely, that he married the cousin, and among the well-known people who married the cousins, - the founder of evolutionary biology Charles Darwin and English science fiction writer Herbert Wells.

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